Photos Connor Reid | Graphics Allegra Rosenberg
Another Newport Folk has come and gone, beginning the long and treacherous wait for what next year will bring. 2015, like those before, left music fans with almost nothing left to be desired. From lobster rolls and panoramic sailboat views to some of the best acts around, this festival manages to create a bond between artist, fan and event like no other. Performers always seem to express gratitude to fans and organizers at a festival, but there’s no comparison to the gushing of appreciation that Newport artists give. Everyone in attendance, whether it’s their first or fortieth time, has the sense that they’re taking part in something important — something that matters. This sensation was particularly relevant given that 2015 was the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan plugging in. The whole weekend was amazing, but below are some of the highlights. Till next year Newport!
The day began with a strong and decidedly indie-leaning folk set from Bahamas, who brought some very excited yet chill vibes to the crowd. Leon Bridges was up next — if Newport didn’t already feel like stepping through time, catching his set on Friday certainly sealed the deal. With a suave, smooth demeanor worthy of the greats he’s emulating, this was the perfect way to truly begin the weekend.
Following an always memorable set from The Lone Bellow was The Tallest Man on Earth. His performance from a few years back was simplistic and beautiful, filled primarily with his stripped down sound and emotional delivery. This year’s performance, though, saw him fully re-envigorated, backed by a full band that delivered amazing renditions of songs from his newest album. Despite the increase in his roster, though, he still took time to perform solo, giving fans his earlier hits the way they know them best.
Soon after came the reveal of the worst kept secret at Newport (though this didn’t diminish anyone’s excitement), as My Morning Jacket took the stage, performing an hour long set leading up to Roger Waters’ headlining performance. While he ran through Pink Floyd favorites, solo tracks and a few covers, the crowd’s excitement was never diminished, even as chilly rain continued to drizzle down for the majority of the set. If anything, the weather added a certain well-deserved gravity to the situation.
The Lone Bellow
My Morning Jacket
On Day 2, Spirit Family Reunion gave fans the perfect wake up call, bursting through their set with an immense amount of energy and charisma and each member playing off the other to liven up the crowd. The Barr Brothers, who followed shortly after, did much the same. There’s something impressive about expertly combining a harp, folk and rock n roll into one well-wrapped package. Langhorne Slim, though, I was particularly excited to see, having only caught the end of his previous Newport set (which seemed like quite the ride) — 2015 was no different, and I didn’t repeat my mistakes.
It was clear, after speaking with a few of the older crowd, that “getting” Courtney Barnett isn’t for everyone. She put on a hell of a rock show, though, giving the audience mundane stories in her songwriting that, upon further reflection and deeper thought, carry a ton of weight. It’s a bit like Seinfeld if Larry David had wanted to send viewers a broader message.
The following couple of acts, though, were really deliberate in their message. Surprise act James Taylor finally finished a set he began in 1969 (the original was cut short to announce the moon landing) and Sufjan Stevens, following what seemed like unending technical problems, took the stage in his usual trucker hat to give eager fans songs old and new. While the topics discussed (death, death and/or death) were heavy to say the least, his carpe diem, “there’s so much life here,” banter in between not only lightened the mood, but made everyone feel a bit more connected. Brandi Carlile’s set after was easily one of my favorite’s of the weekend. A natural storyteller, she weaves personal tales in between beautifully spun acoustic songs. Traveling with only she and the twins, their intimate set was captivating from beginning to end.
With cinematic songwriting and a slightly vintage take on their sound, seeing Lord Huron perform always feels transportive, and Newport was no different. Their early afternoon set on Sunday captured the adventure on both their albums, and the feeling of possibility that the last day of Newport brings. The First Aid Kit set that directly followed was memorable, but possibly not for the right reasons. Instead of two vocals rising up in perfect harmony, there was only one — Johanna Soderberg had completely lost her voice, leaving her sister Klara to sing the set solo.
Following those two were Blake Mills and Laura Marling, both immense talents. Their songs are winding and beautiful, and technically speaking, they’re both excellent guitar players. Their overlapping schedule was a little upsetting, but seeing one after the other left me absolutely in awe.
The crowd surrounding the stage for Hozier was the largest I’ve seen at the festival. The walkways leading towards the stage were packed with hopeful attendees, all trying to get a closer glimpse of the rising star. The set itself was incredible, as expected. His timid demeanor and bold vocals make for the perfect stage presence, and you can’t deny the mass appeal of the music. Directly after on the main stage was the ’65 revisited set. The lineup was stellar, no doubt about that, but given the gravity of the occasion, I was anticipating a few more metaphorical fireworks. All the same, though, it was a beautiful, relaxing way to close out a beautiful, relaxing festival.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats